With BirdSleuth, Schoolkids Learn Their Birds in Costa Rica

April 20, 2009
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BirdSleuth Facts

  • Began: 2006
  • Who uses BirdSleuth?Classroom teachers, homeschoolers, nature centers, and students
  • Why? With BirdSleuth, students spend precious time outdoors, engage in scientific inquiry, use technology, gather real data, and think for themselves about what it means
  • Number of BirdSleuth modules sold: more than 750. (BirdSleuth modules are inexpensive; pricing recovers materials and mailing costs
  • Number of teachers who have attended BirdSleuth professional development workshops: 600

Imagine a bird walk in Costa Rica, one of the world’s premier birding destinations and home to nearly 1,000 bird species. Overgrown fields and woodland edges teem with tanagers, screech with parakeets, and buzz with hummingbirds. Perhaps a Chestnut-sided Warbler or Wood Thrush hides among the leaves of this tropical landscape, far from its summer home in the United States and Canada.

Now imagine taking the trip as an elementary-school student, seeing and hearing that tumult of species in a single morning. Though it’s little more than a dream for kids in the United States, for Costa Rican children it’s an incredible opportunity that knocks each day.

And it’s the focus of a new branch of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s BirdSleuth program. We’ve adapted our popular curriculum for classrooms in Central America, translating the materials into Spanish and developing resources that meet the needs of small, rural classrooms. In 2008–09, we put it into practice at a handful of schools in Costa Rica.

Tropical Central America is a perfect location to introduce kids to birds, science, and conservation. It’s home to colorful species, living lessons of evolution, and—in the annual visits of migrant birds—potent reminders of the connectedness of distant countries.

After six weeks of test-driving BirdSleuth–Costa Rica, the feedback was clear. Teachers loved the opportunity to share the science of their surroundings using resources that had been written specifically for them. Children loved the opportunity to pursue lessons outside, with examples chosen especially to match what they saw. And, just like with BirdSleuth in the States, participants sent their data back to scientists through citizen-science efforts such as eBird.

The BirdSleuth team is now seeking funding to expand the curriculum to more schools in Costa Rica and in Mexico as well. It’s a brilliant opportunity to introduce science and conservation to young minds. And its potential extends beyond national borders to reach right back to the United States. Using the migrant birds our countries share, BirdSleuth offers a way to link classrooms, promote a continental vision, and maybe even make some new friends.

How old were you when you became interested in birds—and did you ever wish the spark had struck sooner? Has your interest in birds led you farther into exploring the natural world—and do you wonder what more you’ll yet learn through birds?

At the Cornell Lab, we find wonder in feathers; joy in song; fascination in behavior. Birds are the most direct, most compelling route we know of toward understanding the environment and its secrets. We believe the finest naturalists, the most perceptive scientists, the strongest conservationists of the future are already among us, in the elementary, middle, and high schools of the United States and the world.

As part of our education program, BirdSleuth is part of our commitment to sharing our knowledge with the general public and with the future. By becoming a member of the Cornell Lab, or simply by donating to BirdSleuth, you can help us to extend our reach to another student, another classroom, another country. Even the biggest flocks gather one bird at a time. Won’t you join us?

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